Jennifer Haley

The 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize has been awarded to U.S. playwright and Texas native Jennifer Haley for her play The Nether.  At a private reception in London on February 28, the transatlantic theatre community gathered to honor the playwright and finalists of the annual prize.  

The prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize is awarded annually to recognize women from around the world who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theatre.   British star of film and theatre Imogen Stubbs presented Jennifer Haley with an award of $20,000 and a signed and numbered print by artist Willem de Kooning.

The Nether is a suspenseful tale of our not-so-distant future, where criminal desire in virtual reality blurs the definition of morality and existence.  Haley imagines a future world where our population now creates reality in the vast, virtual world of the Nether, and adults can anonymously live out any fantasy they desire. When a young cyber detective discovers a realm where these fantasies involve crimes against children, she interrogates a charismatic man called Papa. But as the two discover they are linked by more than the case, their battle of wills blows up beyond questions of morality to probing the basic code of existence.

The Nether was nominated by the Center Theatre Group of Los Angeles.  It was workshopped as part of the 2011 O’Neill Playwrights Conference.  The Lark Play Development Center in New York further workshopped The Nether in September, 2011.  The Philadelphia Theatre Company’s PTC@PLAY festival will present a staged reading on March 7.

The list of 2012 Finalists for The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize included Johnna Adams – Gidion’s Knot (U.S.); Alice Birch – Many  Moons (U.K.); Madeleine George - Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England (U.S.); Nancy Harris – No Romance (Ireland); Zinnie Harris – The Wheel (U.K.), Jaki McCarrick – Belfast Girls (U.K.), Molly Smith Metzler – Close Up Space (U.S.); Meg Miroshnik - The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls (U.S.); and Alexis Zegerman – The Steingolds (U.K.).

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, co-founded by Emilie S. Kilgore and William Blackburn, annually honors an outstanding new English-language play by a woman. For over three decades, the Prize has encouraged women playwrights and drawn attention to notable new works. Many of the winners have gone on to receive other honors, including Tony Awards and The Pulitzer Prize. The finalist plays also benefit from the exposure, which generates interest and productions at theater companies across North America and the United Kingdom.  

In addition to Ms. Stubbs, the international panel of judges for the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize included Jonathan Church, Artistic Director of the Chichester Festival Theatre and Ben Power, Associate Director of the National Theatre.  Judges from the U.S. were Randy Gener, award-winning writer/editor/critic; Martha  Lavey, Artistic Director of the Steppenwolf Theatre (Chicago); and Frances McDormand, Oscar and Tony Award-winning film and stage star.

The Houston-based Susan Smith Blackburn Prize received the 2010 Theatre Communications Group's National Funder Award. The annual honor goes to a company, foundation or other entity for "leadership and sustained national support of theater in America."

The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize reflects the values and interests of Susan Smith Blackburn, noted American actress and writer who lived in London during the last 15 years of her life.  She died in 1977 at the age of 42. Over 300 plays have been chosen as finalists since the prize was instituted in 1977. Over 80 of  them are frequently produced in the United States today. Seven plays first honored by the Blackburn Prize have gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The authors of those plays, Margaret Edson, Beth Henley, Marsha Norman, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Paula Vogel and Wendy Wasserstein are the only women to have done so since the Blackburn Prize was first established.

American playwright Katori Hall received the 2010-2011 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play Hurt Village. Signature Theatre Company (New York) nominated the play, and has just produced its world premiere.

Each year artistic directors and prominent professionals in the theatre throughout the English-speaking world are asked to submit plays.  In addition to the U.S., the U.K. and Ireland, new plays have been submitted from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India.  Plays are eligible whether or not they have been produced, but any premiere production must have occurred within the preceding year. Each script receives multiple readings by members of an international reading committee that selects ten Finalists.  All six judges read each finalist’s play.

Over 100 plays were submitted for consideration this year.  The submitting theatres of the 2012 Finalists are:  Clubbed  Thumb (U.S.), Abbey Theatre (Ireland), Manhattan Theatre Club (U.S.), Alliance Theatre (U.S.), King’s Head Theatre (U.K.), Playful Productions (U.K.), The National Theatre of Scotland, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (U.S.), Theatre 503 (U.K.)


Jennifer Haley is a Los Angeles-based playwright whose work has been seen recently at the 2011 O'Neill National Playwrights Conference and the Lark Play Development Center, where she developed The Nether. Her plays include Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, which premiered at the Actors Theatre of Louisville 2008 Humana Festival and continues to see productions nation-wide, Breadcrumbs, which premiered at the 2010 Contemporary American Theatre Festival, and Froggy, workshopped at the 2011 Sundance Theatre Lab, The Banff Centre and American Conservatory Theater. Her plays have also been presented at Summer Play Festival in New York, PlayPenn Playwrights Conference, Lincoln Center Director’s Lab, Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, Page 73 Productions Summer Residency at Yale, Bricolage Production Company and Manbites Dog Theater, among other venues. Neighborhood 3 is published by Samuel French; Espaces 34 will  publish  the  French  language  version  in  Spring  2012. Jennifer is a former fellow of the MacDowell Colony and Millay Colony for the Arts, and a current member of the 2011- 2012 Center Theatre Group Writers' Workshop. In 2009 she founded the Playwrights Union, a network of dramatic writers in Los Angeles. www.jenniferhaley.com


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February 28, 2012

Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Contacts:
U.S. Administrator: Leslie Swackhamer - P: 206-683-5369 / lswackhamer@gmail.com
London Administrator: Caroline Keely -  P: 01588 650739 / 07811 582256/ caroline@ckeely.co.uk

This page last revised 19th March 2012